Residents’ attitudes key to city’s image
New Orleans, a city known by tourists for its historic charm and festival atmasphere, realized it had an image problem–with its own residents. Many cities devote a significant slice of their budget to attracting tourists or new businesses. But, while this external self-promotion is key to economic development, New Orleans believes it can boost its bottom line by investing publicity dollars at home.
Just 25 months ago, a local non-profit group, the Young Leadership Council (YLC), took on the task of measuring citizen attitudes. The YLC brought in the marketing research firm Saurage-Thibodeaux Research (STR) to help explore the extent of the city’s image problem.
“The research revealed that almost everyone seemed to have forgotten what a great city we live in,” says Karyn Noles, president of the YLC. “But, most importantly, we came away with a clear plan to make needed changes.”
More than 60 business partners joined in to turn the city’s “inside” image around. Together, they launched a promotional campaign using billboards, newspapers and television to tout the positive aspects of living in the metro area.
The campaign worked. Eighteen months after it began, a follow-up found that 80 percent of the residents had heard and could recall the campaign message. Findings also showed that these individuals were more positive toward New Orleans and less likely to discuss the negative aspects of the city. Overall, there was an increase–from 32 percent to 40 percent–in positive comments about New Orleans.
Most cities are constantly exploring ways to attract new businesses. In addition to financial incentives, businesses give significant weight to intangible items–like the friendliness of the people–in their evaluations. New business can start a city’s economic ball rolling with an increased number of jobs and a higher tax base. Real estate sales and development expand, and small business growth also takes off.
Cities that rely on tourism for a significant part of their tax revenue obviously want tourists to leave with a favorable impression. If residents are enthusiastic about the city and what it has to offer, tourists will share this positive aspect with other potential visitors.
Word of mouth is still the most powerful form of endorsement.
PLANNING AND CONDUCTING IMAGE CAMPAIGNS
When conducting an image campaign, a city should:
* Explore residents’ attitudes. Discovering citizens’ feelings about living in the area can help improve attitudes. Focus groups of business leaders, local government officials and other citizens are useful for collecting qualitative insight; written and telephone surveys provide the necessary quantitative data;
* Plan the campaign. Get city organizations and businesses involved during the planning stage, sharing the research results and asking for suggestions;
* Develop the campaign message. Be suite it is memorable, positive and entertaining. Encourage local organizations to weave the theme of the campaign into the city’s regular annual events;
* Carry out the campaign as planned. Schedule promotional events and media coverage of the campaign well ahead of the start date. A campaign is typically spread over a period of 12 to 24 months; and
* Evaluate the campaign’s effectiveness. Post-campaign research shows how much and in what ways attitudes have changed.